In a special way, Angel Bilal’s years at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., have been a family experience. 

The member of Archbishop Carroll’s class of 2020 is a legacy student there, following in the footsteps of two family members, her mother and older brother, who also graduated from Carroll. And she praised the bonds she has formed with her Archbishop Carroll family, the friends she has made there with fellow students during classes and while participating in the school band, playing on its soccer team and helping out in Carroll’s Thanksgiving Food Drive.

“The Carroll experience altogether has been a great experience because of the people,” Bilal said.

She added that, “When I first got there, it felt like a big family. I fit in. That’s why I went to Carroll. We all had something in common. We were all together. My friends I made at Carroll, everything we did together is like a good memory. These are experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Angel Bilal, who is Muslim, is the daughter of Shareef Bilal and Geva Hickman-Johnson, who was among the first girls to attend Archbishop Carroll High School when the school became coeducational in 1989, and who graduated in Carroll’s class of 1993 with Larry Savoy, now the school’s president. Bilal has a younger sister, Imani Johnson, who is in prekindergarten, and an older brother, Elijah Bilal, who graduated from Archbishop Carroll in 2015.

“Being a legacy child at Carroll, it really elevates the expectations people have for you,” Angel Bilal said. “My mom did such a great job at Carroll, and people expect her kids to do well.”

Bilal did do well at Carroll, graduating as the salutatorian in her class of 77 students.

“I’m extremely proud of her,” said Hickman-Johnson, who added, “she bested us all.”

This past fall, Archbishop Carroll noted the 30th anniversary of the school becoming coeducational, and Hickman-Johnson said she didn’t feel like a trail-blazer at the time, but it has been meaningful for her son and daughter to become part of the Carroll family. 

“The only thing that has stayed the same is the type of family bond Carroll seems to give students who come there,” she said. She added, “The values they have been given has not changed… As I send them out into the world, they’ll have the same moral foundation that I was also given through Carroll.”

Her son Elijah Bilal went on to earn a business degree at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and is now a manager trainee with the Enterprise car rental company.

“To have my children walk the halls that I walked and have the same teachers I had... I feel like I am giving my kids a piece of my history,” said Hickman-Johnson, who is a high school educator. “It’s one of the most meaningful things I have been able to share. My children are my legacy, and they are now a part of my alumni family too.”

Asked about how she feels as she is about to graduate from Archbishop Carroll, Angel Bilal said, “It feels really good to graduate after four years of hard work.”

She admitted that it has been a transition doing online learning this spring, after school campuses closed following government restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The change “from going to school every day to sitting at home at your desk with your family around has been a transition,” said Bilal, who added, “it’s preparing me to be more independent. I have to be more responsible for my work.”

Her teachers at Archbishop Carroll “have prepared me for college. They do a good job making sure students are on track,” she said, adding that the independence and maturity she gained there will help her “make the right decisions in life.”

This fall, Angel Bilal will attend Elon University in North Carolina, where she plans to major in astronomy. She said her class in physics during her freshman year at Carroll helped spark that interest, as did watching videos about the planets and stars. She’s saving up for her first telescope.

“Astronomy has always been that field I found interesting,” she said, adding that one day she wants to make a discovery that will move human understanding forward.

At Elon, Bilal also plans to participate in the university’s marching band and in its wind ensemble. She began playing the saxophone in the fourth grade, and played the alto saxophone in the Archbishop Carroll band during all four of her years at the high school.

“I liked the sound of the saxophone and the role it plays in the orchestra,” she said. “Band at Carroll is so fun, not just because I’m playing my favorite instrument, but I’m playing with my friends. Playing together and learning new songs is always fun at Carroll.”

Bilal also enjoyed the friendships she made playing on Carroll’s soccer team as a goalie and striker. Playing soccer with her friends was really fun, she said, noting they became like a family. She enjoyed playing goalie, because “people are really counting on you to protect the goal so we can win the game.”

During her junior and sophomore years at Carroll, Bilal also participated in track and field, throwing the shotput and discus.

She also enjoyed volunteering with her friends in Archbishop Carroll’s Thanksgiving Food Drive, one of the largest such school collections in the country, where students each year collect tons of food that they sort and then distribute to neighborhood families.

“It feels really good to help the community by supporting each other and asking people to help out,” she said.

All those activities with her Archbishop Carroll family, her friends, made the school experience special for Bilal, she said.

“My friends at Carroll, those are the type of friends you make and never forget,” she said.